Ding ding! Round 2! IF Derby had been the "classic" Derby course with a couple of tweaks, the organising team at Falkirk had taken note and...completely redesigned last year's course. As I set off on my first practice lap (which was mostly a lesson in standing at the side of a race course peeling off sweaty layers of clothing - it was weirdly warm!) I felt a bit upset - last year's super wide, flowing (some would argue "grass crit") loop had been given the gnarly upgrade, with several more short steep (off the bike) grovels and many more slow speed "faffy" (that's a technical term) obstacle infused corners preventing any rhythm. Not that I have a problem with that sort of thing - these races are meant to be a step up from the local leagues, after all, so bigger, more challenging courses should be part of that - but I'd been looking forward to hurtling round the grounds of Callendar House again and this felt more like it would be raced at a slower pace.
After a couple more laps, I got into a bit more of a flow with it and decided I'd still enjoy it - I'd been doing more work on the smooth/fast dismount - run up - remount stuff that would be key, so maybe I could use it all to my advantage. Plus there were still several longer, more power based sections where I imagined people would be trying to 'rest' where I could keep the pressure on, if I found myself struggling through the tech.
After getting some good intel from a few V50s (thanks to Ian and Phil for the info!) I decided to leave my tyres at quite a high pressure - apparently hidden tree roots on the descents had caused a few punctures - and swapped my shoes for a pair with the longest mud studs I had. "The Wall" was making a big difference in the race, apparently, with a lack of grip when trying to clamber up it causing people all sorts of issues. So slightly less grip when on the bike, but more when off it, hopefully that would be the right way round!
Yet again, I make a balls up of the start and find myself to the side of a whirlwind of riders swooping past me, but thankfully the start loop this time includes a nice steep hill that gives me a chance to stem the damage a bit. There's enough grip in the tyres up the grass bank for me to get out of the saddle and ride my way round a few people before we get to the argy bargy of a series of fairly tight corners that seemed to arrive very early on from the start.
Now, I don't mind a bit of argy bargy in the corners - it's all part of CX and, as long as it's not aggressive, just a bit of leaning on each other, it's fine. The only problem I have with it is that I don't weigh very much, so I find myself being pinged off line by more powerful (polite terminology) riders over and over. There's a bit of a breeze blowing too and I start to wonder if I'll just be swept away by it, such is the failure to keep my tyres where I want them!
Still mid pack we hit "The Wall" for the first time and, to my delight, I make up a few places on the clamber. There's already - just like there was at Derby - a gap of several corners between me and where I wanted to be in the race, but as more open sections of the course come into play I keep my head together and just focus on working up through the field. I'm 17th on the first pass through the pits.
I find I've blatantly got enough fitness to make up place after place, but the next full lap is so stuffed with mistakes and poor choices (getting off too early, trying to remount and get riding in too big a gear etc) that I have to do twice the work to stay ahead of anyone I pass. I give myself a bit of a talking to and try to ride smooth for the final few laps. The tyres grip nicely on the wet grass turns - to the point where I find myself visibly closing gaps in the bends every time I focus on the next rider in front - my lungs feel well up for it on the long dragging open sections and the run ups feel very fluid and natural.
By the last laps it's all coming together and I eventually roll across the finish line in 6th. I may have had to make about 30 overtaking moves to get past those 11 people, but eventually each move stuck. A decent result, salvaged...
MEGA thanks to everyone involved in the race - my initial impressions of the course we're shown to be utterly wrong, it was immense fun and made of great racing and the whole event seemed to be brilliantly run by properly cheerful people. There's a lot to be proud of there!
And SUPER MEGA thanks to Lee at Advance Cycle Coaching who's sorting me out with such a good level of fitness that it more than makes up for any riding mistakes I seem to make - when in doubt, power it out :)
Beach racing this week coming by the sounds of it, with round 3 coming straightafter 2. Hopefully it'll be as fun as the organisers have made it sound (and hopefully my shoes will have dried out in time!)